This week I just got one book I bought myself (which was a serious exercise in self restraint since I actually went to the bookstore and looked around and saw many that I wanted to take home with me).  I went to look for the February Women of Science Fiction Book Club selection, but they didn’t have it so I picked up another book in a series I’ve been wanting to continue that they did have.  They did have the March selection but I decided to just order it online when I get the February book.  You’ll see why when I get it and post the cover here (it’s a Baen cover, need I say more?).

The Hero Strikes BackThe Hero Strikes Back by Moira J. Moore

This is the second book in the Lee and Taro series.  I read the first one toward the end of last year and really enjoyed it (review of Resenting the Hero).  Every time I’ve been to the bookstore since then I’ve looked for the next book, but they always have had most of the books in the series except for that one.  This time they had the second book so I snatched it up.  There have been a few times I wished I had it around since I’ve been in the mood for a short, entertaining fantasy book like the first one.  I read the first paragraph and was immediately hooked so I’m definitely going to have to read it the next time I just want to read a fun book.

In a realm beset by natural disasters, only the magical abilities of the bonded Pairs—Source and Shield—make the land habitable and keep the citizenry safe. The ties that bind them are far beyond the relationships between lovers or kin—and last their entire lives…

Whether they like it or not.

The weather in the city of High Scape is off the charts. It’s snowing in the middle of summer, and the townsfolk are desperate for Shield Lee Mallorough and Source Shintaro Karish to fix it—which they can’t do. But try explaining that to an angry mob…

Meanwhile, there’s a crazed killer targeting aristocrats. Karish has forfeited the Dukedom of Westsea to continue working as a Source, but Lee fears that technicality won’t matter to the murderer. It certainly doesn’t matter to Karish’s mother, who’s bound and determined that he take the title.

Only by working together will Lee and Karish be able to figure out the weather, catch the killer before it’s too late, and most importantly…get rid of Karish’s mother.

This is not exactly a review (thus the lack of the word “review” in the title).  Since I didn’t actually finish the book, I can write about my impressions, but I can’t really write a review of the entire novel.  I tried to decide for a while whether or not to write about it even though I didn’t complete it and decided to go ahead.  When I see other people talk about books they didn’t finish, I find it useful as long as they are honest about that fact and also gave the book a chance (i.e., they didn’t read 2 pages and then give up on it – but to be clear, I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen a “DNF” writeup where someone had read that little).

Having read 190 out of 430 pages of my ARC of The Last Page, I feel that I did not give up on this one easily.  I tried so hard to read this book – the author sent me the copy himself and seemed very nice.  Plus he signed it to me personally so I wanted to at least give it a fair review.  Normally I persevere with books I’m not enjoying in order to do just that, so it was with great dismay that I finally realized I should just throw in the towel. The main reason for that was that it was taking me so long to read this book that I wasn’t reading the other books on my pile.  I first started it back in August, spent 2 or 3 weeks reading it and didn’t get very far.  So I tried reading another book, and on occasion I went back and read part of this one. It never drew me in even after breaks, though, and I finally decided I’d spent enough time on it and needed to move on so I could get through more of the to-read pile.

With that caveat out of the way, I’ll treat this similar to a review in that I’ll provide you with the same information about the book I normally do to better help you decide if it is for you in spite of it not being for me – an excerpt, cover image, where to find it on some other sites, and links to reviews (which I think is especially important since you can read about it from the perspective of people who did actually finish it).  A lot of people loved this book so there are a lot of more positive opinions to read.  (Note: Ratings of an entered number out of 10 are automatically included in the below data so that’s why it says “DNF/10” instead of just “DNF” or “No Rating.”)

The Last Page, a debut fantasy novel by Anthony Huso, was released in hardcover in August and is also available as an e-book. The second half of the story is titled Black Bottle and will most likely be out this summer or fall according to an interview with the author.

Here’s the blurb since I don’t feel like I can give an accurate representation of the overall plot without completing the novel for myself:

The city of Isca is set like a dark jewel in the crown of the Duchy of Stonehold. In this sprawling landscape, the monsters one sees are nothing compared to what’s living in the city’s sewers.

Twenty-three-year-old Caliph Howl is Stonehold’s reluctant High King. Thrust onto the throne, Caliph has inherited Stonehold’s dirtiest court secrets. He also faces a brewing civil war that he is unprepared to fight. After months alone amid a swirl of gossip and political machinations, the sudden reappearance of his old lover, Sena, is a welcome bit of relief. But Sena has her own legacy to claim: she has been trained from birth by the Shradnae witchocracy—adept in espionage and the art of magical equations writ in blood—and she has been sent to spy on the High King.

Yet there are magics that demand a higher price than blood. Sena secretly plots to unlock the Cisrym Ta, an arcane text whose pages contain the power to destroy worlds. The key to opening the book lies in Caliph’s veins, forcing Sena to decide if her obsession for power is greater than her love for Caliph.

Meanwhile, a fleet of airships creeps ever closer to Isca. As the final battle in a devastating civil war looms and the last page of the Cisrym Ta waits to be read, Caliph and Sena must face the deadly consequences of their decisions. And the blood of these conflicts will stain this and other worlds forever.

This book had potential to be very interesting – dark fantasy with a bit of steampunk, a heroine involved in espionage facing a decision between gaining power and love, an imminent civil war, airships and magical equations.  As I read the book, I thought it had some promise. Caliph and some of the tough decisions he faced could be compelling, and the magic system involving math was creative.  However, the times it did manage to click with me were few and far between and for the most part I was, quite frankly, bored.

The pacing was mostly slow, and it seemed to be meandering without any real point. The story switched a lot between Caliph and Sena, but occasionally other characters were introduced into the mix.  Perhaps it would have been different had I read to the end, but a lot of these extra scenes seemed to serve no purpose and by the time I was nearly 200 pages in it just didn’t seem like the plot was progressing.  Caliph was eventually the new High King and he had to deal with people serving him who didn’t want to and learning about some dark practices in his government.  Sena was a witch in search of a book  who became involved with Caliph – just like the witches planned as they wanted to influence the new king.  There were some power struggles among the witches and some complications with the mysterious book, but not a whole lot else seemed to be established at that point.  In particular, I really didn’t care for Sena’s parts as she was not nearly as intriguing as a witch spy sounds or a particularly sympathetic character.

The writing didn’t particularly appeal to me, either.  The descriptions were sometimes over the top, and the prose in general was not pretty or whimsically clever.

The Last Page had some glimmers of potential, but it didn’t have enough high points toward the halfway point for me to choose it in favor of other books on my pile.  The plot seemed to wander, I didn’t care about the characters or their situations, and the writing didn’t captivate me.  If any one of those three things had worked for me, I may have been able to persist to the last page, but as it was it didn’t hold my interest enough to put aside other books waiting to be read.  I seem to be in the minority on this one, though, so if it sounds interesting to you check out some of the other reviews below!

My Rating: Since I didn’t read the entire book and this isn’t an official review, I’m refraining from rating it.

Where I got my reading copy: ARC from the author.

Read an Excerpt

Other Reviews: has an excerpt from The Sea Thy Mistress, the conclusion to Elizabeth Bear’s Edda of Burdens trilogy.  I’m reading this right now and I am enjoying it immensely so far.  The books in this trilogy are so beautifully written and I love all the Norse mythology.

Sadly, Sarah Monette’s cat recently passed away.  On February 2, she is holding a memorial fundraiser and the proceeds are going to the University of Wisconsin-Madison Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital’s Animal Companion Fund.  This means she is selling lots of books and she will sign them!  It’s a good chance to both help animals and get some of those Doctrine of Labyrinth books that are unfortunately out of print (she has 10 paperback sets and 2 or 3 copies of each of the individual books in hardcover).  Those aren’t the only books up for sale, either!

Sorry to those who already saw this when I tweeted it last night, but for those who were not on Twitter at the time, here’s an interview with Carol Berg at Galaxy BookshopThe Soul Mirror, the second book in her Collegia Magica trilogy, came out earlier this month – I need to hurry up and read the first one which has been sitting on my “to read soon-ish” pile since the beginning of this month.

Courtesy of Penguin/Viking, here is an excerpt from A Discovery of Witches, an upcoming novel by Deborah Harkness. They have also provided one copy to give away to a reader in the United States or Canada. First, here’s some information on the book, which will be released in hardcover and as an e-book on February 8.

From the publisher’s website:


A richly inventive novel about a centuries-old vampire, a spellbound witch, and the mysterious manuscript that draws them together.

Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism.

Excerpt from A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. Copyright © 2011 by Deborah Harkness.

The leather-bound volume was nothing remarkable. To an ordinary historian, it would have looked no different from hundreds of other manuscripts in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, ancient and worn. But I knew there was something odd about it from the moment I collected it.

Duke Humfrey’s Reading Room was deserted on this late-September afternoon, and requests for library materials were filled quickly now that the summer crush of visiting scholars was over and the madness of the fall term had not yet begun. Even so, I was surprised when Sean stopped me at the call desk.

“Dr. Bishop, your manuscripts are up,” he whispered, voice tinged with a touch of mischief. The front of his argyle sweater was streaked with the rusty traces of old leather bindings, and he brushed at it self-consciously. A lock of sandy hair tumbled over his forehead when he did.

“Thanks,” I said, flashing him a grateful smile. I was flagrantly disregarding the rules limiting the number of books a scholar could call in a single day. Sean, who’d shared many a drink with me in the pink-stuccoed pub across the street in our graduate-student days, had been filling my requests without complaint for more than a week. “And stop calling me Dr. Bishop. I always think you’re talking to someone else.”

He grinned back and slid the manuscripts—all containing fine examples of alchemical illustrations from the Bodleian’s collections—over his battered oak desk, each one tucked into a protective gray cardboard box. “Oh, there’s one more.” Sean disappeared into the cage for a moment and returned with a thick, quarto-size manuscript bound simply in mottled calfskin. He laid it on top of the pile and stooped to inspect it. The thin gold rims of his glasses sparked in the dim light provided by the old bronze reading lamp that was attached to a shelf. “This one’s not been called up for a while. I’ll make a note that it needs to be boxed after you return it.”

“Do you want me to remind you?”

“No. Already made a note here.” Sean tapped his head with his fingertips.

“Your mind must be better organized than mine.” My smile widened.

Sean looked at me shyly and tugged on the call slip, but it remained where it was, lodged between the cover and the first pages. “This one doesn’t want to let go,” he commented.

Muffled voices chattered in my ear, intruding on the familiar hush of the room.

“Did you hear that?” I looked around, puzzled by the strange sounds.

“What?” Sean replied, looking up from the manuscript.

Traces of gilt shone along its edges and caught my eye. But those faded touches of gold could not account for a faint, iridescent shimmer that seemed to be escaping from between the pages. I

“Nothing.” I hastily drew the manuscript toward me, my skin prickling when it made contact with the leather. Sean’s fingers were still holding the call slip, and now it slid easily out of the binding’s grasp. I hoisted the volumes into my arms and tucked them under my chin, assailed by a whiff of the uncanny that drove away the library’s familiar smell of pencil shavings and floor wax.

“Diana? Are you okay?” Sean asked with a concerned frown.

“Fine. Just a bit tired,” I replied, lowering the books away from my nose.

I walked quickly through the original, fifteenth-century part of the library, past the rows of Elizabethan reading desks with their three ascending bookshelves and scarred writing surfaces. Between them, Gothic windows directed the reader’s attention up to the coffered ceilings, where bright paint and gilding picked out the details of the university’s crest of three crowns and open book and where its motto, “God is my illumination,” was proclaimed repeatedly from on high.

Another American academic, Gillian Chamberlain, was my sole companion in the library on this Friday night. A classicist who taught at Bryn Mawr, Gillian spent her time poring over scraps of papyrus sandwiched between sheets of glass. I sped past her, trying to avoid eye contact, but the creaking of the old floor gave me away.

My skin tingled as it always did when another witch looked at me.

“Diana?” she called from the gloom. I smothered a sigh and stopped.

“Hi, Gillian.” Unaccountably possessive of my hoard of manuscripts, I remained as far from the
witch as possible and angled my body so they weren’t in her line of sight.

“What are you doing for Mabon?” Gillian was always stopping by my desk to ask me to spend time with my “sisters” while I was in town. With the Wiccan celebrations of the autumn equinox just days away, she was redoubling her efforts to bring me into the Oxford coven.

“Working,” I said promptly.

“There are some very nice witches here, you know,” Gillian said with prim disapproval. “You really should join us on Monday.”

“Thanks. I’ll think about it,” I said, already moving in the direction of the Selden End, the airy seventeenth-century addition that ran perpendicular to main axis of Duke Humfrey’s. “I’m working on a conference paper, though, so don’t count on it.” My aunt Sarah had always warned me it wasn’t possible for one witch to lie to another, but that hadn’t stopped me from trying.

Gillian made a sympathetic noise, but her eyes followed me.

Back at my familiar seat facing the arched, leaded windows, I resisted the temptation to dump the manuscripts on the table and wipe my hands. Instead, mindful of their age, I lowered the stack carefully.

The manuscript that had appeared to tug on its call slip lay on top of the pile. Stamped in gilt on the spine was a coat of arms belonging to Elias Ashmole, a seventeenth-century book collector and alchemist whose books and papers had come to the Bodleian from the Ashmolean Museum in the nineteenth century, along with the number 782. I reached out, touching the brown leather.

A mild shock made me withdraw my fingers quickly, but not quickly enough. The tingling traveled up my arms, lifting my skin into tiny goose pimples, then spread across my shoulders, tensing the muscles in my back and neck. These sensations quickly receded, but they left behind a hollow feeling of unmet desire. Shaken, I stepped away from the library table.

Even at a safe distance, this manuscript was challenging me— threatening the walls I’d erected to separate my career as a scholar from my birthright as the last of the Bishop witches.
Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. Copyright © 2011 by Deborah Harkness.

Does this sound like a book you’d like to read?  If so, fill out the form below and you’ll be entered into the giveaway!  You must be from the United States or Canada to be eligible.  This giveaway will be open through the end of the month.  A winner will be randomly selected on February 1.  If the winner does not send their address by the end of the day on February 3, a new winner will be selected.  Thanks and good luck!

Note: The form that used to be here has been removed since the contest is now closed. Thanks to everyone who entered!

For another chance to win the book, you can also enter at Janicu’s Book Blog – and read about why Deborah Harkness decided to write this novel.

This week I have a giveaway, and I’m hoping to revise a draft of a post for the week.  Then I’ll move on to reviewing A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge and Dust by Elizabeth Bear (which I just read for this month’s Women of Science Fiction Book Club).  I’ll also be writing a review of Late Eclipses by Seanan McGuire, but I won’t be posting it until closer to the release date in March.  So for now I’ll just leave it at: I liked it very much and think it is the best book in the series so far.  So much happens!  Awesomeness!  And I’m very glad book 5 will be out later this year and that there is no long wait.

This week I received two review copies.  Someday when we quit having a snowstorm a day (seriously, Maine winter, where do you think we’re going to put all this snow?!) I’m going to go over to the bookstore to look for February’s Women of Science Fiction Book Club selection.

The Skin MapThe Skin Map by Stephen Lawhead

This is the first book in the Bright Empires series, which will be 5 books long according to Lawhead’s website.  At the moment, it is available in hardcover or as an e-book, and it will be coming out in trade paperback format in May.  Lawhead’s Pendragon Cycle about Merlin and King Arthur were some of the very first fantasy books I read (the second book, Merlin, was my favorite), and I also liked his novel Hood, the first book in the King Raven trilogy, a Robin Hood retelling (still need to finish the rest of the series).  I had seen a copy of this in the bookstore toward the end of last year and was curious about it, so when I was offered a review copy, I didn’t have to think twice about accepting.  An excerpt from The Skin Map is available on the publisher’s website.

It is the ultimate quest for the ultimate treasure. Chasing a map tattooed on human skin. Across an omniverse of intereing realities. To unravel the future of the future.

Kit Livingston’s great-grandfather appears to him in a deserted alley during a tumultuous storm. He reveals an unbelievable story: that the ley lines throughout Britain are not merely the stuff of legend or the weekend hobby of deluded cranks, but pathways to other worlds. To those who know how to use them, they grant the ability to travel the multi-layered universe of which we ordinarily inhabit only a tiny part.

One explorer knew more than most. Braving every danger, he toured both time and space on voyages of heroic discovery. Ever on his guard, and fearful of becoming lost in the cosmos, he developed an intricate code–a roadmap of symbols–that he tattooed onto his own body. This Skin Map has since been lost in time. Now the race is on to recover all the pieces and discover its secrets.

But the Skin Map itself is not the ultimate goal. It is merely the beginning of a vast and marvelous quest for a prize beyond imagining.

The Bright Empires series–from acclaimed author Stephen Lawhead–is a unique blending of epic treasure hunt, ancient history, alternate realities, cutting-edge physics, philosophy, and mystery. The result is a page-turning, fantastical adventure like no other.

The InitiateInitiate by Tara Maya

I actually received this e-book as a gift from the author while I was writing this post and had to go back and change it from 1 book received to 2.  It’s the first book in a series called The Unfinished Song.  I can’t find a lot of information on it other than that the second book is in progress.  It looks like it is self-published and I don’t accept self-published books for review anymore, but I’ll at least take a look at it at some point since I already downloaded it before looking it up.

Dindi can’t do anything right, maybe because she spends more time dancing with pixies than doing her chores. Her clan hopes to marry her off and settle her down, but she dreams of becoming a Tavaedi, one of the powerful warrior-dancers whose secret magics are revealed only to those who pass a mysterious Test during the Initiation ceremony. The problem? No-one in Dindi’s clan has ever passed the Test. Her grandmother died trying. But Dindi has a plan.

Kavio is the most powerful warrior-dancer in Faearth, but when he is exiled from the tribehold for a crime he didn’t commit, he decides to shed his old life. If roving cannibals and hexers don’t kill him first, this is his chance to escape the shadow of his father’s wars and his mother’s curse. But when he rescues a young Initiate girl, he finds himself drawn into as deadly a plot as any he left behind. He must decide whether to walk away or fight for her… assuming she would even accept the help of an exile.

A brief note on the Vorkosigan books before I get into Memory:

Memory is the tenth book out of fourteen total in the Miles Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold.  That is, it’s tenth in chronological order beginning with the prequels about Miles’s parents and including the books that do not feature Miles.  It may seem odd to include the latter two, but they are still in the series omnibus editions along with the other books so I’ve been reading them as they show up (one is about a member of Miles’s crew and the other takes place 200 years before Miles’s time – the latter shows up at the end of the omnibus editions, though, so I haven’t yet read it).  Other than the newly released Cryoburn, Memory is the only book not available in an omnibus.

Although I think it is possible to start the series with either the prequels (Shards of Honor and Barrayar in Cordelia’s Honor) or The Warrior’s Apprentice (available in the Young Miles omnibus), I would definitely recommend reading all the books including Miles before beginning Memory.  It picks up shortly after Mirror Dance and it is a transitional book for Miles as a character – familiarity with him is necessary to get the full impact of this novel.  If you haven’t read the previous books and do not want to read potential spoilers, here are the reviews for both omnibuses that are good starting points for the series – Cordelia’s Honor and Young Miles.  It is a series I highly recommend to fans of space opera adventure, especially if you like a clever main character with a tendency to get into trouble.

Miles Vorkosigan is once again on a mission in his guise as Admiral Miles Naismith, commander of the Dendarii Fleet.  This time Simon Illyan, chief of Imperial Security, has charged Miles with retrieving a courier taken when hijackers took over a freighter.  Instead of doing the intelligent thing and returning poor Lieutenant Vorberg to his homeland, they decided to put him up for sale.  As can be imagined, the Emperor and the rest of the Barrayaran government didn’t take too kindly to this treatment of one of their men, thus resulting in dispatching a crew to rescue him.

Unfortunately, resurrection is a procedure that has some side effects – and in Miles’s case, they happen to manifest in the middle of the operation to save the lieutenant.  As is typical of Miles’s luck they appear at the worst possible moment, much to the detriment of the poor lieutenant.  To make matters even worse, Miles deliberately hid this issue from his superior officer at Imperial Security, fearing he’d be stuck behind a desk instead of allowed out into the field.  When Miles is called home, he is not looking forward to facing Simon Illyan’s fury, and the end result is even worse than being designated to desk duty.  However, when Simon Illyan’s memory chip begins malfunctioning Miles may be the only one with the ability to help – and the process of investigating this public and private disaster may even help him work through some of his own problems.

Despite some pacing issues, Memory is one of the best books in the series that I’ve read so far (along with Barrayar).  It started off very quickly since the first part was the doomed mission, then it meandered a bit before eventually coming together.  Miles has it rough in this book, dealing with the aftermath of his death from the previous book.  It only gets worse for him, and this does result in some moping that seemed to drag on and on before the rest of the plot picked up.  Sometimes I don’t mind introspection that lends itself to character development, especially in a case like this one where it’s entirely justified and expected, but it did go on for long enough that it began to get dull.  [Ed. – I half expected Miles to start wearing a sad beret, visiting coffee bars where he reads elegies about weepy-eyed puppies every Thursday, and develop a crippling heroin habit; I was only partially right.]  Then the mystery part of the story began to build up, Miles was back in action and it was moving along nicely.  At that point it became very compelling, particularly since events progressed while he continued dealing with (and actually working toward resolving) his crisis.

This is the book in the series where Miles’s internal fight comes to a head.  I certainly don’t want to give away how it ends, but the consequences of this decision mean that the series has forever changed from this point forward.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out throughout the rest of the series and just what it means for Miles.  The resolution has promise, but I’m also a little unsure about how different the next installments will be.

Aside from a slight fear about the next books, I’m fairly confident there’s no need for worry.  After all, my husband [Ed. Hi!], who has read the rest of the books, said he was very annoyed by how Memory ended and the possibility of limiting some aspects of the series.  After reading the rest of the books, he decided his concerns had been unnecessary.  Also, once it picked up, Memory had all the same aspects I loved about the other books.  The mystery concerning the breakdown of Illyan’s memory chip was fun, especially with Miles involved.  He’s a great character – clever and his third person narrative is tinged with an amusing sense of humor.  This novel also involved Barrayaran social structures, and learning more about Simon Illyan was a plus.

For those who have read the previous books about Miles, this novel is a must read although there are some issues with pacing.  It’s certainly worth persevering to wait for the plot to progress, though, and I look forward to seeing how the big changes in this book affect the rest of the series.

My Rating: 8.5/10 (Again, this probably should have been higher on my top 10 of the year list.  Apparently I need to write about books that are potential candidates before deciding on the final list.)

Where I got my reading copy: I bought it.

Reviews of other books in this series: